Blessing the Sea – Issue 1, August 2020 “Drinking Mud Coffee”

“Blessed are you, our eternal G-d, Ruler of the Universe, who made the great sea.”
A traditional, though rarely heard today, Jewish blessing upon encountering the majesty and the power of a large body of water. It’s a small but powerful reminder of many opportunities throughout the day to stop the rush and experience the reality, to touch its divine nature.

Dear Friends,
Thank you for joining the first issue of my newsletter, Blessing the Sea. Here I’ll be sharing interesting finds from my overlapping journeys in Jewish, Buddhist, and other religious and cultural traditions. It’s a new adventure for me, without any specific end-goal, more of an ongoing conversation. If some of it resonates with you, I would feel that my newsletter reached its purpose.


Last Year in Jerusalem

In the summer of 2019, I was studying in an intensive program at the Conservative (Masorti) Yeshiva in Jerusalem. It turned out to be one of the most transformative experiences I’ve ever had. Here’s a brief account of my discoveries from that time. Last year in Jerusalem… struck by a teaching of Rabbi Kook, explained…

Setting the Right Intention with Morning Prayers: A Personal Liturgy

This is part 1 of a 3-part post I wrote for the Applied Jewish Spirituality blog about discovering the time and place for daily meditation in morning prayers. My Hebrew name is Akiva ben Ariel. Akiva comes from Yaakov, ‘the follower’, in Genesis; Ariel being my father’s Hebrew name. My dharma name is Kyojin, meaning ‘abiding in compassion’.…

Mud Coffee

In Israel, I couldn’t have gotten through the 20-hour days of studies, services, and homework without several cups of what is known as Kafe BotzKafe Turki, or Kafe Im Hel (‘Mud’, ‘Turkish’, or ‘with Cardamom’). After locating a finjan, a long-handled copper pot, at a thrift store in Joshua Tree, and acquiring a jar of cardamom, I’ve been now making it daily at home. The recipe is simple: combine a cupful of water, 1 tsp. of coffee, 1 tsp. of (brown) sugar, a pinch or 2 of cardamom, and bring it all up to a boil once or twice. Strain it and zehu! (‘voila!’ in Hebrew). To learn more, click here

The Language Corner: What’s Older, Meditation or Mindfulness?

The first record of the word meditation in English, written as meditacioun (‘contemplation; devout preoccupation; private devotions, prayer’), appears circa 1200, arriving from Old French 100 years after the Norman conquest of England.
Mindfulness, however, has a longer history in English, especially the word mind, or gemynd in Old English ‘memory, remembrance; thought, purpose; conscious mind, intellect, intention’, itself a derivative of even older, ga-mundiz in Proto-Germanic.
These two words illustrate the two main sources of English vocabulary, with English itself being a creole of 2 Germanic languages (Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse) and of the Latin-derived Old French, but that’s a topic for another newsletter… Meanwhile, to learn about the history of English words, visit the Online Etymology Dictionary, which I use in teaching linguistics.

My Go-To Spiritual Support during the Pandemic

I am grateful to several spiritual teachers listed below who helped me make it through the last six months, through its fear, uncertainty, and so much suffering. The pandemic itself has been a teacher: it taught me that instead of shutting down or self-isolating internally, I could live out these times in full, learning from and growing through what it brings. 

  • Yiscah Smith‘s classes on Rabbi Abraham Cook taught weekly via Applied Jewish Spirituality institute in Jerusalem. Mind-opening texts and commentaries, preceded and followed by guided meditation with Yiscah. Every Monday at 9 am PST.
  • Roshi Ryodo Hawley has been my inspiration as someone who lives a deeply spiritual life as a lay person and a parent. Having a dokusan, a one-on-one meeting, with him is like learning from a learned friend, a true mentor. Roshi Hawley hosts weekly Westchester Zen Circle sits and discussions on Wednesdays at 7:30 pm PST.
  • Valley Beth Shalom, a large Conservative temple in LA, whose Rabbi Edward Feinstein offers profound, touching, and often funny commentary on the week’s Torah portion. Live every Saturday at 9 am PST on Facebook and YouTube. Followed by full Shabbat services online (VBS recognizes virtual minyan).
  • Yokoji Zen Mountain Center, whose Abbot, Roshi Tenshin Fletcher, I’ve been following for years, in person when in Idyllwild, and now online. Wonderful Sunday talks, usually breaking down the impassable, at first look, Zen koans, to distill the truth that is hands-on relevant to living daily life with clarity and meaning.
  • Long Beach Meditation, where I must be of the oldest members (20 years next year). These days, I mostly follow LBM’s young and dedicated Franz Manfredi, who was trained in the Indian Buddhist tradition. His Monday night sits and monthly Full Moon meditation events have been my release valves.

Art aboveNamaste Jerusalem, a series of large canvas murals that meet like praying hands over Jerusalem’s renovated First (Train) Station (‘ha-Tahana ha-Rishona‘).

Namaste and Shalom!


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